Grey Amsterdam - fresh water to the small pond: an interview with Hazelle Klønhammer

Hazelle Klønhammer Managing Director Grey Amsterdam

Grey Amsterdam sounds pretty dull and.. yes, grey - but the local Dutch arm of the network located in an old Waterworks building creates work that is anything but watered down. With a swift injection of international talent and leadership, this hybrid international/Dutch agency may be the one that will finally bridge the gap between the internationals and the locals in the Amsterdam advertising scene.

When the British ECDs - Colin Lamberton and Seyoan Vela - went to Grey Amsterdam they needed an MD who was sharp as a tack like themselves, and with MD Hazelle Klønhammer from Australia they got it. As bonus she brings an even larger international perspective. Hazelle Klønhammer has not only worked at international agencies such as 180, Wieden+Kennedy and Modernista! in Amsterdam since the nineties, she has also wisely taken breaks from the grind to immerse herself in other cultures on travels to exotic destinations, from Vietnam to India. Her outlook is one of permanent curiosity and genuine interest in people, fresh and eager to learn more, and she is totally unfazed by cynical ad manners that so often dog those at the top. She still falls in lust with every product or service she is working on, learning everything she can about the history of a company and loving every minute of it like a kid just out of ad-school. Make no mistake though, she is a people-person, not a product-pusher who fails to see where the brand lives: which is in peoples minds.

DB:- "We were talking about travel, it made me wonder if to be a successful MD, is there an advantage to get a fresh outlook by experiencing different cultures?"

Hazelle Klønhammer: "Absolutely, I just think people are fascinating you know, to see how some people process different information, and their reactions to things."

"When I moved from Australia to Holland, when I worked at Weiden with all these different nationalities - French, Italian, Spanish - you'd get so many perspectives on a brief. Working on a beer brief, say - beer culture is different in Italian, Australian and Swedish. The more you travel, the more people you meet, you just learn about how people operate. I think that's very helpful in business, because everybody comes with own their set of expectations, their way of doing things. And if you can take a step back from that, try and understand how they are perceiving things from their perspective it really helps so much. Not just in any new business, but also in dealing with staff.

Because what is an agency? It's a bunch of people. What are clients? A bunch of people. How can you make connections with them, how can you understand them? Just by paying more attention to how they work culturally..where they are coming from.

DB:- "Yes, it must be good in dealing with clients, because all these different companies have a culture in themselves..."


DB:- "..So you're the brand-diplomat?"

"I think the glue as well, helping people understand people, they can't always express what's bothering them. If you've got people skills and good listening skills you can get in there and help people express what they want to say, more clearly."

DB:- "Yesterday Nick Bailey brought up more women in advertising, do you think we need more women in advertising?"

"I think we do, and not in some women activist way [laughs], but I do think women have a different perspective on things. For example we had a women creative team in here, and they came up with the Lactacyd concept which was shot from the p.o.v of a vagina... That was just something I think, you know, women would come up with something like that.

DB:- DB: "That was shot by a Swede as well, wasn't it? So there you have the mix of different cultures again, you just hired Swedes here right?"

"Yes, that's right. We don't judge people by where they're from, we hire talented people. Talented people came to the door, and they just happened to be Swedish - but we do also like the mix of nationalities, it makes it interesting."

DB:- "Is Amsterdam a better city for that?"

"The creative pool and talent here is really amazing, it's really changed with more and more good people coming in, it's great for us!"

DB:- "Yesterday, at the Boards Summit, many speakers touched on 'doing good'", and I thought about your Pink Ribbon campaign which was good from all angles, it won ad awards, it won peoples choice and then it was all for a good cause. How can advertising do more of these good things?"

"I think it's about getting people together, and not always being driven by the money, that was also a topic yesterday, you know "get your money right and money doesn't have to affect work". But at the same time if you have a good charity cause, and there is no money involved, people will come to the project and give more because other people are giving as well. We had Rankin come to the table, and Chris Palmer - none of us got paid. It's contagious; "well if you guys are helping, we'll help as well." But there are also things for paying clients as well, encourage them to do things. We're working on a project right now, I'm afraid can't give the details, but it's a very big brand that wants to start giving back more, and doing things differently, and we're helping them."

DB:- "That's where I think advertising can help, you can find where a brand could do good."

"Yes, and there are a lot of brands out there now that realize now that it is what they should be doing. Expectations have changed, people are concerned about social issues, the environment, looking for ways they can help find smart ways to connect people, help them do what they're doing."

DB:- "How big is Grey advertising in Amsterdam?"

"We've got 60 people, and that's also with G2 which is a brand activation agency."

DB:- ...and you're in the old waterworks!

"Yes! It is the old waterworks, it's a great area to be in, we also have the park right there where you can go take a walk clear your head in the day"

DB:- "Yeah, I was thinking that's part of why Amsterdam is so good, it's quite small so you can walk anywhere everyone is close, but also because agencies are so generous here, different agencies play with each other, they go out and have fun..."

"Yes, it's not a very competitive city, if you look at London or New York which is more dog-eat-dog and a very competitive nature, even Sydney is that way. I think it's the kind of people who are attracted to come to Amsterdam, a lot of "misfits" end up here, people who don't necessarily like the big structure in advertising, they might call it London advertising but it is a different way of doing things.

Whereas here I think its people who genuinely love great creativity, and who just want to jam and do great stuff together.

And it is a very small place, you'll bump into friends everywhere, at these industry things, you meet people and you keep seeing them all the time."

"An interesting example is that Weiden and 180 have different recruiters, who also happen to be good friends, they share resources when they can. People really collaborate here."

"One thing is interesting, the divide between Dutch agencies and International agencies, I do find it strange that there's a divide. One thing that interested me in coming to Grey was that I have an international background, the ECD's have an international background, and were coming into a Dutch agency with Dutch clients.

We're mixing it up a little, bringing in more international people, and more Dutch people working together - we are genuinely trying to be the hybrid agency, one of the first agencies here that is really merging the international and the Dutch.

DB:- "Well that's been successful, I mean you did get the Dutch people's vote already"

"Yeah, hahaha, we did get in there.

But I do think is is a shame that the Dutch and the non-dutch can be so segregated here. It is quite cliquy between them. I don't know why it is, I want to try and stop it, it's a bit crazy for such a small place."

DB:- "In big networks, like Grey, they have to reinvent themselves as everything is changing now."

"Yes, I think the big question is, will networks survive? And they won't in the old way they were set up. Most of the networks are reinventing themselves, if you look at Grey family there aren't any big network clients, you've got to go out and get your own. The network model has become more hungry, it's not like you can rely on some international clients and sit back and cruise, it doesn't work that way."

DB:- "Yes, and that old network model could also hamper the local shop, where you couldn't pitch on some things because there was a similar client type somewhere in the network."

"Yes, but one thing that is great is there resources that are available. If we're working on a pitch we can send an email to the Grey Family "has anyone worked on a [client like this]" and they'll share their insights, research and results. The information you can get so quickly from the resources is amazing. I was so pleasantly surprised how the Grey Family can talk to each other, share information and support each other, it isn't just the fact that somebody somewhere can say "hey we've got 120 agencies in our network", it is genuinely really connected. It's refreshing."

DB:- What are you working on right now, what work did you like the most?

"I loved Pink Ribbon it was such an amazing cause, and it wasn't just that the process was really good working with such great people, and the cause, but also the client was really brave in how they approached the project.

We've been doing a lot of strategic projects as well, we're not just making creative work. Repositioning some brands.

DB:- "Which ones?"

"Well, we're working on Ketel One, the vodka."

DB:- "Are you one of those people that when you get a new project, a product, you see it everywhere?"

"Oh yeah! [Laughs] I read so much about it, I fall for my own advertising."

DB:- "We were talking about Carlsberg, a brand with such an amazing history, but some brands don't want to take care of their history."

"Some brands are afraid of their history, they think other people won't find it as interesting, and they will be navel gazing. But I find such incredible stories, and often ones that they overlook, that's also why we like to get really involved with the clients, really upfront in the project and get a really thorough briefing, going to factory tours, and we can get underneath the skin of a brand and figure out everything about it.

It's often that guy at the factory that nobody pays much attention to, he's worked there for 30 years and can tell you the most incredible stories, and you could write twenty commercials off him."

DB:- "But that goes back to what Cindy Gallop was saying, about brands and transparency today, it's just being honest abut who they are. A lot of advertising brands are trying to create a history, and you can't really do that, you have one, and you can just explore it. You can't fake it."

"Yes, that's true. There's different ways to twist that interesting bits of history, how do you tell that story and so on. But it's funny that clients are often afraid of their own history. But it's personal, you know."

DB:- "Yes, maybe they feel it is too personal."

"Well it often is, it's family, it's somebody who founded the company a hundred years ago, anything personal can get a bit touchy sometimes."

And with that we wrapped up our chat and went to see Hazelle's family at Grey, as downstairs the creatives sit together in an open room, with their desks forming a big rectangle, as if everyone was just sitting down to a big family dinner. It's not headphone headquarters, people chat about ideas and ask their neighbor to please pass that file or font needed in a big collaborative daily jamming session. A hybrid is born in the waterworks, and creativity is bubbling there.
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